Original (correct) names/spellings for Igbo City's/Towns/Villages
Abakaliki is Abakaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Asaba is Ahaba; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzor; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owerre; Oyigbo is Obigbo; Port Harcourt is Diobu; Ogwashi-Uku is Ogwa Nshi Ukwu... any more will be added.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Heavy wood door from Igboland, 19th-20th Century

This entrance door, ḿgbó èzí, likely comes from the Nri-Oka (Nri-Awka) area in northern Igboland which has a strong tradition of highly elaborate carved gateways for enclosed compounds, particularly of titled men. The patterns on the doors combine the visual elements of ichi facial markings and appropriate and masculinise conventionally feminine uli designs. Their size and artistic decoration reflected the grandeur of the òbí, the central male meeting building of titled men and thus the status, wealth, and social influence of the family head. Such doors often protected shrines visited by travellers hoping to obtain success and good luck. Highly skilled professional carvers are responsible for crafting doors; those working in Awka are the best known where they are made by men of certain umunna, patrilineages, who also make wooden panels, shrine imagery, and other ritual objects. The Nigerian-Biafran war heavily disrupted Igbo arts, before the war ḿgbó èzí were much more numerous. Ḿgbó èzí can be seen in some museums around the world including the British Museum, and in use at the Igbo farmers house installation at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia. — Nancy C. Neaher (1981) “Igbo Carved Doors”; San Francisco International Airport Museum.

An Igbo man from Achala, p.d. Anambra State, photographed by British colonial government anthropologist Northcote Thomas, 1910-1911. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

Igbo Compound Entrance

An entrance in a compound in Nimo, p.d. Anambra State. Photographed by Northcote Thomas, 1910-11. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Names in Igbo folk religion

A few examples of Igbo folk religious names primarily found as peoples surnames today.

Christian influence from the early 20th century altered many of these names and encouraged the proliferation of ‘Chi’ names, ‘Chi’ roughly means a life source but missionaries took it for the Christian God; a name like ‘Chioma’ which originally meant ‘good chi’ – ‘lucky’ became ‘God is good’. With Christian influence more names became centred on ‘God’, in the past names were related more with philosophy, dates, and circumstances at birth.

Àlà names

Names dedicated to the Earth Mother Àlà / Ànà / Ànị̀ are very numerous emphasising the importance of Àlà in Igbo society as the chief spiritual force on earth after the high God and derivatives. [Interestingly, most ‘Chi’ in names like Chiedozie, Chinyere, Chiemeka, Chijioke, Chika today can be substituted with Ani / Ana / Ala like Aniedozie, Aninyere, Alaemeka, Anijioke, Anika.]

Àlà / Ànà / Ànị̀ - The Earth Mother (deity)
Ájáànà / Ájáàlà (f) - Ala, the earth mother
Ànàzọ́nwụ́ - Ala protects from death
Ànị̀àgolu - Ala has obtained / provided
Ànị̀ẹ̀mẹ́ká - Ala has ‘done’ beyond our wishes
Ànị̀kà - Ala is greater
Ànị̀gèkwú - Ala will speak [for the meek] / carry out her divine will [in our favour], Ala will vindicate her followers, Ala will embarrass detractors
Ànị̀ékwénáńsí (Ekwensi) - Ala protect from poison / witchcraft / evil
Ànị̀èdózíé - Ala has protected, restored, repaired
Ànị̀ẹ̀mẹ́ná - Ala has done it all / answered our wishes
Ànị̀yẹ̀mézè - Ala bestowed leadership on me
Ànị̀chèbé (Achebe) - Ala guard us
Ànàgọ̀zíé - Ala bless us
Ànị̀gbòọ̀gụ̀ - Ala has prevented a fight [Perhaps by the birth of a child a fight over a woman’s fertility was avoided.]
Ànị̀wètà / Ànị̀wètàlụ̀ - Ala brought [this child]
Ágwụ - The deity of divination
Amádíọ̀hà - Ágbàrà of justice, lord of lightening
Ányánwụ́ - The deity / power of the sun
Chí - Soul, providence
Chíọ́má - Good chí, lucky
Chímà - Chí knows, a resolute compass of providence (chí).
Chíkà - Chí is great, an infallible compass of providence (chí).
Èjìọ̀fọ́ (Ejiofor) (m) - Righteous, wielder of the staff of divine authority / justice (ọ̀fọ́) [ọ̀fọ́ were usually held by male heads of the family obtained from the naturally fallen branches of a special tree and were used as a staff of authority that could be sworn on.]
Èjìogù (m) - Righteous, swearer to the face of divine justice (ógù) [Somebody who is innocent and swears to ógù (íjí ógù) has divine backing over an accuser and an accuser may be harmed (ị́bà ùrè) if their name is called upon.]
Ígwé - The sky deity, or leader
Íkéǹgà (m) - The cult figure of the right hand
Ìwúányánwụ́ - The law of the sun (deity)
Kámálụ́ / Kámánụ́ / Kálụ́ / Kánụ́ - Amadioha, ágbàrà of justice, lord of lightening
Ńdígwé - Heavenly descendants, heavens favoured.
Ǹjọ́kụ / Íféjíọ́kụ - Ágbàrà (deity) of yam, agriculture, and fire [who the new yam festival is partly dedicated to.]
Nwágbàrà / Nwágbàlà - Child (devotee) of an Ágbàrà, under divine grace.
Nwányánwụ́ - Child (devotee) of Ányánwụ́
Nwàlà - Child (devotee) of Àlà
Nwádíbìà - Child of a dibia (diviner)
Nwágwụ - Child (devotee) of Ágwụ
Nwáḿụ́ọ́ - Child of a spirit
Nwáǹjọ́kụ / Nwáíféjíọ́kụ́ - Child (devotee) of Ǹjọ́kụ
Nwígwé - Child (devotee) of Ígwé, or descendant of a titleder

Woman of Öka (Awka)

A woman of Öka (Awka) photographed by British colonial government anthropologist Northcote Thomas, 1910-1911. Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

Mgburuichi - Bruchee - Breechee

An mgburuichi, an Igbo person with ichi marks associated with Nri. Northcote Thomas, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge. Igbo people were the largest group among people who had escaped enslavement on plantations in Jamaica, mgburuichi were known as 'Bruchee.'

"They were respected throughout Igboland. We have facial marks (ichi) that distinguish us from other Igbo people, and this served as a passport, enabling us to travel unharmed at a time when human beings were essential commodities. People with ichi marks were regarded as Nri men, and were not enslaved. It was probably because of this that some parts of Igboland started to wear ichi."
A 'runaway' advertisement from Jamaica, requesting the capture of escaped enslaved people for a reward in return, noted is an "Eboe man, with the Breeche cut on his forehead," this is an mgburuichi, an Igbo man with ichi marks likely from today's Anambra State. From a compilation of 18th century advertisements for escaped enslaved people in Jamaica. There are over 100 Igbo (Eboe) people listed.
The fact that Igbo "Breechee" show up in Jamaica among runaways from 1777-1793 is significant. It is a concrete sign that the trans-Atlantic slave trade had reached all the way to the Nri heartland in the Anambra valley of northern Igboland, and that by the 1770s (if not earlier) the social violence wrought by slaving and the agawhu (merchant-warlords) was violating even the ancient sacred authority—and the personal safety—of titled "Nri men," who no longer were preserved from capture or kidnapping and enslavement.
– Douglas B. Chambers. "The Igbo Diaspora in the Era of the Slave Trade."

Boy of Mgbakwu

A boy of Mgbakwu, p.d. Anambra State, photographed by British government anthropologist Northcote Thomas between 1910 and 1911. The pictures were taken as part of colonial studies on African people in order to find the best way to rule over them, a crucial study for the implementation of indirect rule. MAA Cambridge. (The original picture is black and white, this is a digitally coloured copy by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́, 2018).

To see this picture is to see one of the first ‘Nigerians.’ Aged around 7 or 8 maybe, with this photo taken between 1910 and 1911, presuming that he lived a long life past his 70’s, this doe-eyed boy of Mgbakwu may have seen the invasion of his town by the British Empire’s West African Frontier Force. Igbo settlements were still fighting back imperialism at this time. His whole world, or at least, that of his parents are about to change forever. He may have heard the word ‘Nigeria’ for the first time around the time this picture was taken. He would have gone from simply an onye Mgbakwu to a ‘Nigerian.’ Just three or four years after this picture was taken was WWI, and the amalgamation of the Northern Protectorate with the Southern Protectorate, where his home is. He may have been one of the first people in his family to be Christened, he may have gone to a mission school. He may have been given a European name. He would have seen the rise of warrant chiefs, the other invasion of ‘native authority’, that is the rise of ‘His Royal Majesty’s’ and ‘His Royal Highness’s.’ He may have eventually heard about the Women’s War of 1929 and heard about and witnessed some of the terrorism which occurred under the colonial regime. Eventually, he may have even casted a vote for a man named Nnamdi Azikiwe, his age mate. He would have gained greater knowledge of peoples far across the Niger and a river named Benue, people who had also ‘become’ Nigerian like him and by no choice of theirs now had linked destinies, he may have even travelled to live amongst them. If he lived long enough, he would have seen the independence of Nigeria. He may have seen the war.

Lady of Igbariam

This is a cropped and coloured part of a larger picture of a young woman from Igbariam, photographed by Northcote Thomas, a British colonial government anthropologist, with brass and ivory jewellery.

With the unreformed colonial-era style education system and general thought, art is considered a frivolous endeavour, learning is completely tied to acquiring capital, and the local economy is neglected (everything’s imported). All of these factors have contributed to the loss of a few indigenous forms of craftsmanship and their markets. What also gets lost with the death of a particular kind of indigenous art form or craft are the ancient motifs, techniques, and design and technology associated with them.

In the Igbo worldview, art is the physical expression and embodiment of the spirit. Technical knowledge of a particular craft or art form was passed on from generation to generation under tutelage and mentorship. One art which seems to have disappeared in the Igbo area is jewellery making, indigenous blacksmithing in general is also in danger of disappearing.

Afikpo Bracelet

A brass bracelet from Afikpo with parallel leaf designs, taken between 1902 and 1909 by Captain James Harold Dyer during the colonial conquest of Arochukwu and what became southeastern Nigeria. Museum of Vancouver, Canada.

Photo: A bronze double-headed python, 1.5 kg, 42.5 cm, found along with other bronze objects in Okohia village in Ihiala, dated based on some bronzes found in Ezira, and Igbo Ukwu, to a range between 900-1600 CE.
One fact which is becoming increasingly clear concerns the spatial distribution of bronze objects in eastern Nigeria. Afikpo oral tradition claims that there exists a dump of bronze/brass/copper objects in the Ogwugwu valley. The spot is very sacred to the people and my attempts at locating the exact place did not get the necessary support from the local population. The bronze objects purport to have been abandoned by the Ego (the putative ancestors of present-day Ugwuagu and Amizu communities in Afikpo). In addition, the burial of a one-time chief, Okorie Chukwu, of Uzuakoli in Imo State is claimed by the elders to contain numerous burial goods including some bronze/brass objects. This site was brought to our notice by the incessant letters of one Mr. Akwani who asserted that there exist some royal tombs in Uzuakoli which might yield valuable archaeological information. After the usual survey and consultations, we were ready to test-excavate one of the chambers. But to our surprise, an explosive politicking ensued immediately and we were forced to abandon the investigation. There are, however, many garbage dumps and mounds which hold plenty of promise for archaeological investigation in Uzuakoli.

– V. E. Chikwendu (1984). "More Bronzes from Eastern Nigeria." Anthropos. pp. 260–261.

[Southeastern Nigeria is probably scattered with other 'Igbo Ukwu,' better funding for archaeology may produce other interesting finds.]

Chi and Chi-na-eke: Dualism in divinity

Photo: Igbo double bell/gong. British Museum. 1930s.
The relationship between chi and Chineke is by far more complex and enigmatic. [...] Chineke as a single word-form for "God" suggests a later Christian missionary introduction. [...] It would appear that at the cognitive level the Igbo refer primarily to chi na (and) eke, which connotes two inseparable and complementary deities rather than the single overriding God of Christian belief. The other possible meaning [...] chi that creates, [...] is apparently foreign to Igbo way of thought. [Note:] In an original socio-literary essay Achebe (1975: 100) makes the seminal point that "the early missionaries" made the initial mistake of treating chi and eke as one God, Chineke ("Chi that creates").
[...] Thus, one of my "old" and "reliable" informants seems not to recognize the contradiction in these two assertions of [...] chineke kere uwa (chineke that made the world) but had no definite idea of him"; [...] "chi is what we know as 'god', chineke was introduced by the whiteman." [...] Eke and chi combined, if I may paraphrase his speech, exercise authority over "creation" in all its ramifications as a natural rather than imaginative or human inventive process; there is no concrete representation of eke and no sacrifices or prayers to it either; chi is the one that demands and gets all such ritual attention because eke is what chi gives to every person—that is, one's "destiny" or "fate." He added that the personal name "Ekezie" refers to the idea of "onye yo ziri uwa", i.e., one held to have reincarnated very well. My informant concluded: "eke na chi wọ otu mana eke siri na chi bia." (Eke and chi are one and the same but eke originates from chi.)
[...] [C]hi and eke are like two stones that must be struck together in order to produce a spark. [...] [T]he two tend to coalesce rather than bifurcate. In this sense the notion of duality, which [...] characterizes Igbo philosophy of life, is placed in a broader context. For not only chi and eke, a series of other analogous "stiff twin compasses" exist, e.g., ọfọ na ogu, akọ na uche, ikwu na ibe, ọgu na mgba, okwu na uka, and nta na imo. [...]

– I. Chukwukere (1983). Chi in Igbo Religion and Thought: The God in Every Man. Anthropos, Bd. 78, H. 3./4. (1983), pp. 529–531.

Igbo Cosmology Schematic

A schematic of creation / division in Igbo cosmology (proposed). Chi represents the first and the all encompassing, Ékè (different from Èké) breaks out of this to become two with Chi. The days of the 4-day-week, izù ntà, are the divisions of the earth (the four cardinal points), the complete Igbo week is an eight-day week, izù ukwu.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Iko Concubinage

Photo: Wall painting on an Ekpe house in Umuajata, Olokoro (Umuahia) painted by an Anang artist. G. I. Jones, c. 1935.
The Igbo lay more emphasis on the father-child relationship than on the husband-wife relationship or any other relationship in the kinship syndrome. The sexual services in the 'family' are channelled towards a most important social goal: the perpetuation of the male line. There is no emphasis among the Igbo on sexual services being exclusive and confined to husband and wife. All that the cultured demands is that sex be institutionalized. Iko mbara [institutionalised male and female concubinage] is one such institution.
... In a cross-cultural perspective, it becomes quite clear that, over space and time, the evocation of sexual jealousy or sexual tolerance is the product of social values-the result of conditioning. People are sexually jealous, tolerant, or intolerant according to the ideas they have about sex.
– Victor C. Uchendu (1965). "Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo of Southern Nigeria." Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 35, No. 2. pp. 193, 195.

Origin of the Modern Igbo Number System

Entry from the dictionary of the Igbo language centering around the Onicha and Asaba dialects, by British government colonial anthropologists Northcote Thomas, 1914.
Many views and suggestions were put forward and the matter was widely discussed before the war. Two years after the war a consensus was reached and since 1972 a new counting system has been in use. …
Perhaps we might be interested in how Igbo came by the names for the place values [the Igbo Standardisation Committee, headed by F. C. Ogbalu]. It did so without borrowing except from within the rich resources of its many dialects. It specialized the meanings of single non-sentential words in the different dialects, whose meanings for the higher numbers were until then rather vague. Thus:
puku (1,000) was 'uncountable’ in a number of the Central dialects.
nde (1,000,000) was 'uncountable' in a number of the Central dialects where ǹdè was known to be higher in value than puku.
ìjèri (1,000,000,000) represented 'uncountable' in a number of West Niger Igbo dialects.
In the case of nàrị (100) certain Igbo dialects, notably in the Nsukka and Aguleri areas of Anambra State, traditionally had this for 100. So, we adopted it but modified its spelling. As for zero we specialized efu (nothingness) and, in addition, borrowed but Igbonized the words nọọ̀tụ̀ and zirò, as synonyms.

– E. ‘Nọlue Emenanjọ (1985). “Language Engineering in Present-Day Igbo.” “In: West African languages in education: papers from the fifteenth West African Languages Congress.” p. 85.

Unique Igbo Names, Past & Present

Some unique Igbo names that are from the past and some made up here, that sound quite modern and new.

Dije - di ije, master traveller
Kika - kini ka [Ika dialect] - what is greater
Zikora - zika ora, show the world
Zimoha / Zimora - zima oha/ora, show the world
Chike - chi ike, strong chi
Mozi - mọ ozi, angel
Nisi - na isi, leading the pack
Jozi - je ozi, go on a mission
Biozi - bia ozi, came on a mission
Jamike - salute me
Diji - master yam farmer
Kobi - ka obi, brave hearted
Chika - great chi
Dinka - master artisan, artist
Lema - listen [look] to your chi, look to Chi
Lemachi - listen [look] to your chi, look to Chi
Sochi - follow your chi, follow Chi
Akala - akala aka, destiny
Dinta - hunter
Ajana - earth deity
Soludo - follow peace
Tonna - praise dad
Jemma - go well
Bialije - nwa bialije, a child on a mission
Ohato - The people praised
Atata - adi atata, does not dry (of a river)
Toro - praised
Achilike - achi uwa la [na] ike, don’t rule by force
Duru - di uru, lord, master
Anya - anya ugwu / iro egbulam, may the evil eye not kill me
Ume - breath, life
Jenudo - go in peace
Jenandu - go places in life
Umike - spirited
Juba - ji uba, fill with wealth / yam of wealth
Zuoke - enough
Olanna - father’s jewel
Achike - achi uwa na ike, don’t rule by force
Obisike - strong hearted
Tango - reward eater, ‘enjoyer’
Chitango - reward getter
Ringo / Lingo - eat the reward, ‘enjoy’
Oringo / Olingo - reward eater, ‘enjoyer'
Osondu - the race of life
Bando - enter shade
Nando - in the shade
Bosah - belu olisa, if not for the supreme being

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Murdering Women in Nigeria [Women's War]

The Crisis, May 1930, p. 164.

“Murdering Women in Nigeria” by Ben N. Azikiwe, better known as Nnamdi Azikiwe. This is a report concerning the Women’s War of 1929 against British taxation and the killings of women in Opobo by British forces. This was published in The Crisis, May 1930, a Black American journal for civil rights, history, politics, and culture founded by W.E.B. Du Bois as the official publication of the NAACP. The reference to the March 1930 issue is the single strip. Nnamdi Azikiwe was a key figure in Nigerian independence who later became the first indigenous Governor General of Nigeria on Nigeria’s independence in 1960 and the first president of Nigeria in 1963.

The Crisis, May 1930, p. 178.

The Crisis, March 1930, p. 98.

The Crisis, May 1930 [Google Books]
The Crisis, March 1930 [Google Books]

[Links Accessed September 19, 2018.]

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Ibo State Union

Endowment Fund. Ibo National High Schools. Ibo State Union Headquarters. 1954.

The Ibo State Union was the main pan-ethnic Igbo organisation from 1948-1966. It started out as the Ibo Federal Union founded in 1944 by the leaders of the Lagos Ibo Union.

In 1943, Dennis Chukude Osadebay, the general secretary of the Ibo Union in Lagos who represented the Asaba Union, launched a campaign to federate all Igbo unions throughout Nigeria resulting in the formation of the Ibo Federal Union in 1944 which later became the Ibo State Union.

The Ibo State Union's goal was for solidarity among the Igbo people as well as support for educational development. Formed by elite Igbo nationalists, the union also functioned as an anti-colonial and nation-building organisation and supported an agenda for Nigerian independence.

The Ibo Federal Union, once headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe and renamed the Ibo State Union in 1948, produced an Igbo national anthem and once planned for a national bank of Igboland. The union also made the 6th November 'Ibo National Day.' The union was close with the NCNC.

The Ibo Federal Union became the Ibo State Union at a 1948 pan-Igbo conference at Aba in order “to organize the Ibo linguistic group into a political unit in accordance with the NCNC Freedom Charter.”

The Ibo State Union was banned in 1966 along with other political parties by the Aguiyi-Ironsi regime through decree 34 of May 24. During its existence, the Ibo State Union was one of the most influential ethnic organisations in Nigeria.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Wet Sahara: A Practical Approach to the Question of the ‘Origin of the Igbo people?’

Image: Ukpuru, referencing The Sahara Megalakes Project, King's College London.

[This is a short theory.]

Thousands of years ago, the Sahara was green with life and sported several lakes, Lake Chad was several times its size, and the Sahara was well populated as shown by petroglyphs (rock art) in the area dating from around the time of the fertile Sahara. The greening (and drying) of the Sahara is periodic, occurring every couple of thousand years (It'll be green again).

In southern Nigeria you have several traditions of people migrating from the north to civilise the south, mainly through agriculture as is explicitly detailed in the story of Eri among the Umueri-Umunri-Igbo. Speculatively, these traditions in southern Nigeria could be very old and recycled stories relating to the end of the last greening of the Sahara, otherwise known as the Neolithic Subpluvial. The finds at Nok, for instance, could possibly point to one of the last civilisations from that period when the Sahara desert, lush with green, continued to dry out. With this development, people living in the then green Sahara, particularly people who were agriculturalists, would have clung onto fertile land where they could for their sustenance. Major civilisations around the world are known to have started near the banks of rivers, in Nigeria this is no exception where there are several cultures which sprang from near the banks of the Niger and Benue and other rivers. With the theory of expansion from the retreating green Sahara, these rivers would have served as crucial life-lines to the migrants searching for stable sources of water and reliable land.

Manda Guéli Cave in the Ennedi Mountains, northeastern Chad. Photo: David Stanley.

The story of ancient legendary primogenitors usually entails a patriarch who migrated specifically from the north of the present homelands, and was said to have brought civilisation, specifically agriculture, and a political structure. The story usually goes that the man and his entourage met aboriginal people in the area who either took this founder as a leader and were incorporated into the new society or were conquered and sometimes expelled from the area.

One such story is that of Eri, the father and founder of the culture of the Umueri-Umunri-Igbo today in Anambra State, Nigeria. In short, Eri is said to have travelled from someplace north before reaching the Anambra area and settling with his children. Any group of people in the areas that are now desert would cling on to and follow the course of rivers as their lands became arid, which would explain the story of Eri coming to the confluence of the Omambala (Anambra) and Niger. Eri is said to have been taught agriculture from Chi, the four primordial spirits, Eke, Oye, Afo, Nkwo, gave him the knowledge of divination and the market (trading).

The other famous founding father is Odudwa in the Yoruba-Benin story, who in the general story migrated from a northeast direction with religion and civilisation, the connection to the northeast may be linked to the Niger. The origin of Oduduwa is contested, possibly because the Oduduwa story of founding and civilising may be partly recycled from a more ancient story in the area; both the Yoruba and Benin are far older as a people than even the earliest time Oduduwa could have founded a dynasty. The story around Oduduwa also includes meeting a group of people already living in the area who were expelled, and some coming together to form a society.

The Oduduwa story also refers to the conquered or acculturated aboriginal people as either the Igbo or Ugbo, although the tradition claims that these people are unrelated to the present day Igbo people (and that’s not being contested here), this word may have a particular meaning and words related to it may be significant to understanding the history of the area. The word comes up in a consistent and related manner in several southern Nigerian languages, for instance, igbo and ugbo alternatively mean hinterland, forest, farm, an ancient people or slave in several languages; ugboko is forest in Igbo, ugbo is farm, igbo is bush in Yoruba; even more speculation says the name 'Igbo' refers to hinterland farmers, as opposed to Oru, an ancient riverine people who are now mostly considered Igbo. Igbo is also used to refer to outsiders by some communities considered to be Igbo today, sometimes derogatorily.

The Igbo, Edo, Yoruba, Fon, and Ewe probably come from a similar migration that met a similar set of aboriginal communities, the igbo or ugbo words may be cognates that originally meant forest in these migrant's languages, this may have been extended to aboriginal people in the hinterland. Perhaps the make up of these societies can be likened to having a similar mother and father, the question is whether it’s the same father and different mother, or the same mother and different father; the Igbo/Ugbo, referring to the speculated aboriginal people, may represent the same mother who is the origin of the many cultural links, and specifically linguistic links, between these populations, and the migrating fathers provide some more remote cultural links from the supposed time in the wet Sahara.

The DNA tests done on Ancient Egyptian mummies such as that of Ramses III showing him to have a strong connection to populations in West Africa, in this theory, would come from the intermingling of populations in the Sahara before it was dried out leading to people fleeing to more reliable water sources. In this theory, the mass migrations from the encroaching desert could have sparked the Bantu migration which is estimated to have likely started around the central eastern part of present day Nigeria which is quite near the edge of the Sahara and between the forest and semi arid zones of West Africa. The population pressure from the migrations, with the supposition that the populations in the Sahara would have had agriculture on their side which made them look for fertile land, may have increased the competition for resources in the area leading to a push of migrants hunting for resources towards the south away from the competition, this may be related to the dense population of the area now known as Nigeria.

The area around Igboland is within the reach of the last bit of the African equatorial forest belt from Central Arfica, from the DNA evidence supposedly showing small amounts of Khoi-San-like ancestry in some Igbo people, it could be that this area shielded a very ancient population for a very long time before the coming of agriculturalists. The Igbo people are said to have migrated from two main regions, one around today's Anambra, and one in Imo, the two migrations formed what is sometimes termed the northern and southern Igbo. The southern Igbo are traced mostly to the Isu culture, while the northern Igbo are traced to the Nri-Ọka area. The Igbo to the west of the Niger migrated from both the northern and the southern Igbo. The high population density in Igboland as well as the technical innovations found in the area such as with the iron finds at Lejja, Enugu State dating to roughly 2000 BC, may support the idea that this area was a ‘funnel’ made by the Niger and Cross River which drew in high competition from the Sahara as Robert D. Jackson supposes (1975). The intense competition and waves of migrants may also explain the supposed susceptibility of Igbo people to change and new ideas.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ogbodo Enyi Female Maskers, A Twist of Tradition

It is extremely rare, unheard of and possibly, barring this instance, virtually impossible to find a masking tradition in west Africa that features a ‘heavy’ aggressive mask that is headed by women. A twist of tradition happened in the Izzi (northeastern Igbo) village group of Nkaliki in 1975 when the community oracle, Uke, asked Nkaliki women to organise and dance Ogbodo Enyi in honour of its work saving them from child-killing evil spirits. A woman in this picture is one of the women maskers of Nkaliki shot by Herbert Cole in 1983 dancing an Ogbodo Enyi mask amidst her female supporters. The mask is originally a men’s mask representing leadership and takes on aspects of an elephant (ogbodo enyi meaning ‘elephant spirit’) and is somewhat aggressive when worn by men.

The Ogbodo Enyi of the women’s society, although aesthetically similar to its male counterpart, is considered to be different from that of the male and the male and female maskers never appear in the same context. The female Ogbodo Enyi is embraced by the women of the community and it is worn by a woman who is selected by the ogbodo, like her male counterparts, through divination and a mask is commissioned by the women. Although a few younger men of the community do not acknowledge it, the female Ogbodo Enyi is well respected by the elders of the community and the male Ogbodo Enyi masker acknowledges female maskers during the males performance, a special occurrence since masks are usually separated from women. This is the only documented existence of a masking tradition headed by women in Igbo culture and probably Nigeria where masking traditions are usually exclusively male privileges from which women are largely barred. — Information summarised from Herbert Cole, Chike Aniakor (1984).

Friday, April 13, 2018

King Oputa of "Ogbekin"

An illustration of King Oputa of "Ogbekin", an Igbo settlement noted to be near the Oshimiri (Niger River) from the book Niger et Bénoué (1880) by the Belgian explorer Adolphe Burdo.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Arochukwu, Shifting from the Slave Trade?

Photo: People at a dance in Ibom, Arochukwu, April 23, 1903 [a year or so after the British invasion.] Charles Partridge. British Museum.
The first Europeans to visit Arochukwu, in 1901, noted with some surprise--since it contradicted what they had been led to expect by their superiors--that the Aro trade in "factory goods" was no less than their trade in slaves, and that in fact "Palm oil seems to be the main export." [W.J. Venour, "The Aro Country in Southern Nigeria," Geographical Journal, 1902] Even Sir Ralph Moor, the chief creator of the myth that the Aro were solely slave traders and brigands, was compelled to admit that "the individual profits of the slave traffic, owing to the heavy tolls exacted on the roads [trade routes in the Igbo area were often tolled by the communities they ran through], together with other market tolls, have not really been great."

— Robert D. Jackson (1975). The Twenty Years War. pp. 32–33.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Atilogwu Dancers, Festac 1977

Atilogwu dancers at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in Festac, Lagos, Nigeria, 1977. Photo: Philip Gaunt / UNESCO.

Elizabeth II, Nigerian Federal House of Representatives, Lagos, 1956.

This photo from 1956 at the Nigerian Federal House of Representatives at the capital, Lagos, during Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh's visit, exemplifies the racialised balance of power during the colonial period, Europeans are positioned high over appointed Africans.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Igbo Ukwu and a possible Eri myth link

According to Umunri, their great father Nri, the first son of Eri, was told by Chineke to sacrifice and bury his first son and daughter and out of their graves grew cocoyam (daughter) and yam (son). There is a possibility that this altar stand found at Igbo Ukwu (in lands that were once part of Oraeri) which features a male and female figure (pictured), dated to no later than the 11th century CE, may point to that origin story.

The marks on the face of the figures bear resemblance to ichi marks which were given to first sons and daughters among Umunri. Ichi marks were related to the sun and the moon and the groove marks were likened to ogba ubi, farm furrows, emphasising the role of agriculture in Nri legend as the first son and daughters faces were also marked with ichi. There are also similar grooves found on the side of the object.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Igbo women and girls and their hairstyles, 1900-1930.

The crested hairstyle ojongo was popular until the mid-20th century, it is a distinctive feature of Igbo arts depicting women. Women used ornaments like thread, feathers, shells, bone, wood, beads, Igbo currency, coins, or cloth; mud containing colourful ores, yellow and red camwood powder or paste and palm oil and charcoal were also used for style. Isi/Ishi owu, a threaded hairstyle is still popular among married women in rural areas.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Textile Trading on the Atlantic

Internal trading, that is, trading among Africans, may also have brought about the distribution of [textiles]. [...]
Photo: Akwete (top) and Ijebu Ode (bottom) cloths compared. British Museum.
[...] One could navigate canoes from the Volta River as far east as the Calabar River in southeastern Nigeria. The Popos [Grand Popo and Aného in Togo] were transporting goods along this channel, at least as far as [...]
Photo: "Ferry at Grand-Popo. Dahomey." 1936, British Museum.
[...] Whydah (Kea 1969:39-40) and possibly to Lagos. From either of these two points, [...]
Image: "Canoe on the Yoruba River [sic]." [Ogun River] BMArchives.
[...] Ijebu Yoruba merchants would then have carried them by canoe to the eastern side of the delta, as the literature tells us they had done with other textiles.
— Lisa Aronson (1982), Popo Weaving.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Odeziaku: Poet, pederast and palm-oil merchant

John Moray Stuart-Young (1881–1939) was an English 'Uranian' poet, memoirist, novelist and merchant trader who was born into poverty in the slums of Manchester and eventually found his way to Onitsha where he later became a wealthy merchant palm-oil trader under the British colonial machine. Ostracised by the white colonial upper class in the British west African colonies, Stuart-Young was embraced by the people of Onitsha who nicknamed him Odeziaku. He grew famous in Onitsha for his stores and his 'strange ways' as well as for his lack of interest in women and his apparently unmarried status. His 'strange ways' were really his 'Uranian' tendencies, John Stuart-Young was a 'boy-lover' who took a few [very young] Onitsha boys under his wing over the years, sponsoring them and their families and leaving much of his wealth to them on his death. John Stuart-Young's perceived 'effeminate' demeanour earned him the names Eke Young and Mami Wata's Wife by the Onitsha people, names he detested, preferring Odeziaku ('writer of wealth', originally a misspelling of Odoziaku, 'treasurer'). His weird shopfronts in Onitsha town, some of the shops including 'Ye Little Wonder Shop', Half Way to Bush' (his dwelling called 'The Little House of No Regrets'), with distorting mirrors in his largest store, had his stores nicknamed Mami Wata's shrine and further linked his 'unconventional' ways with the water spirit, a figure that was largely born out of the contact between west Africans and Europeans on the coast.

As a writer Stuart-Young assumed names such as "Jack O'Dazi" and "O. Dazi Aku", carrying on from his consciously manufactured identity in Onitsha, a place far from the slums of Manchester. His articles and poems were highly regarded and printed in several African-edited newspapers which had him hailed as "West Africa's Poet Laureate". John Stuart-Young died from throat cancer in Port Harcourt on 28 May, 1939. The ceremony for his mourning lasted up to four days and was attended by 10,000 Igbo mourners; a newspaper suggested his grave should become a national shrine.

John Stuart-Young's story highlights many things about Africans and Europeans in the colonial period and the relations between them, one of the largest take aways is the unveiling of the breadth of exploitation of Africans by European colonial agents. Stuart-Young's story shows the extent to which a European could be embraced in an African society and how different identities were dealt with in Igbo society in particular.

John Stuart-Young's life and implications surrounding his identity has been expounded upon in The Forger's Tale: the Search for Odeziaku by Stephanie Newell.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Account of the Phoenix, A Slave Ship Stopped by Africans from Trading in the Bonny River, 1757

“Paquito de Cabo Verdo Portuguese Slave Brig captured by the Boats of HMS Scout on the 11th Jany 1837 in the Bonny River. She had mounted 2 18 Prs with a Crew of 35 men and 576 slaves on board.” – National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London.

“Captain Bailie, commander of the slave-ship Carter, writing to his owners in Liverpool from the River Bonny, Africa, on January 31st, 1757, reveals the method sometimes resorted to by slave-captains to compel the native chiefs to trade with them. He says:—

"We arrived here the 6th of December, and found the Hector, with about 100 slaves on board, also the Marquis of Lothian, of Bristol, Capt. Jones (by whom I now write), who was half slaved, and then paying 50 Barrs, notwithstanding he had been there 3 months before our arrival. I have only yet purchased 15 slaves at 30 and 35 Barrs; but as soon as the bearer sails, I propose giving more; for at present there is a dozen of our people sick, besides the two mates, some of whom are very bad, and I have been for these last 8 days in a strong fever, and frequently insensible. Yesterday morning I buried Thomas Hodge, and on the 13th James Barton. Capt. Nobler of the Phoenix arrived here the 3d, and on the 19th our trade was stopt (as it had often been before) ; upon which we all marched on shore to know the reason and applied to the King thrice, though he constantly ordered himself to be denied, and wou’d not admit us. However, we heard his voice in doors, and as he used us so ill, we went on board, and determined (after having held a Council), to fire upon the town next morning, which we accordingly did, in order to bring them to reason, but found that our shot had little effect from the river, upon which we agreed that the Phoenix and the Hector shou’d go into the Creek, it being nigher the town, whilst Captain Jones and I fired from the river. The Phoenix being the head-most vessel went in, and the Hector followed about a cable’s length astern. The Phoenix had scarce entered the Creek before they received a volley of small arms from the bushes, which were about 20 yards distant from the ship, and at the same time several shot from the town went through him, upon which they came to anchor, and plied their carriage guns for some time ; but finding there was no possibility of standing the decks, or saving the ship, he struck his colours, but that did not avail, for they kept a continued fire upon him, both of great and small arms. His people were thrown into the utmost confusion, some went down below, whilst others jumpt into the yaul which lay under the ship’s quarter, who (on seeing a number of canoes coming down to board them) desired Capt. Nobler to come down to them, which he at last did, as he found the vessel in such a shattered condition, and that it was impossible for him to get her out of the Creek before the next ebb tide, in case he cou’d keep the canoes from boarding him. With much difficulty they got on board the Hector, but not without receiving a number of shot into the boat. The natives soon after boarded the Phoenix, cut her cables, and let her drive opposite the town, when they began to cut her up, and get out her loading, which they accomplished in a very short time. But at night in drawing off some brandy, they set her on fire, by which accident a great many of them perished in the flames. The Phoenix’s hands are distributed amongst the other three ships, and all things are made up, and trade open, but very slow, and provisions scarce and dear.” The Marquis of Lothian was afterwards taken and carried into Martinico.“
— Gomer Williams (1897). History of the Liverpool privateers and letters of marque with an account of the Liverpool slave trade. pp. 481–482.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Igbo Water Divinities

River gods and goddesses are found wherever a significant river or waterbody is found in Igboland, some of the more powerful cults cover larger areas and command more respect and followers by the importance of the waterbodies. Often of fluid gender, the water spirits are powerful ‘images’ of sexuality, fertility, beauty, and wealth and power. The most powerful water spirits are listed.


Ńjābá is so powerful among southern and specifically southwestern Igbo communities that he outranks Àlà, the Earth Mother, in these communities. Ńjābá is usually male and is the guardian of the river of the same name that is a major tributary of Ụ́gwụ́tá (Oguta) Lake in Imo State, Nigeria. Éké, the royal python, is sacred to Ńjābá and surrounding communities consider them messengers and manifestations of Ńjābá and somewhat of a totem animal of which it is forbidden to harm or eat; serious fines and the responsibility of funding a human-sized burial for the snakes befalls anyone who harms pythons.

Ímò Ḿmírí

Ímò Ḿmírí is the spirit of the Imo River [pictured] which runs between present day Imo State (which is named after the river) and Abia State and runs into the Atlantic between a section of Rivers State and Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria. She is usually feminine and was associated with the Ibinukpabi oracle or “Long Juju” of Arochukwu, the most powerful oracle in southeastern Nigeria during the Atlantic Slave Trade, and she is considered as its female counterpart. Ímò Ḿmírí is a largely benevolent fertility spirit. In myth, the Imo is the river that rushed between the Ngwa people of Abia State and their relatives in Imo State creating a permanent cut-off between them.


Also: Ósìmírí / Órìmílí / Órìmírí / Ósìmílí - the female spirit of the Niger River which is named after her in Igbo. As is usual to feminine water spirits she is a fertility goddess. Èzù nà Ómáḿbálá, the confluence of the Anambra and Niger Rivers, is the site where Èrì’s band, the primogenitor of the Umuleri and Umunri Igbo people, migrated from the north to and settled.


Ìdèmílí is the female spirit of the river of the same name that runs through the local government area of the same name in Anambra State, Nigeria. Ìdèmílí means ‘the pillar of waters’ referring to the spiritual force of the water spirit preventing rain-clouds in the sky from falling [ídè also means flood, and water spirit forces are known to punish through floods or other sorts of water-logging]. Like most water spirits Ìdèmílí is a fertility goddess. Éké, royal pythons, are also sacred to Ìdèmílí and to communities that depend on her and are also known as Éké Ìdèmílí. Ìdèmílí’s story also involves appearing to mortals as a maiden.


Also: Ụ̀hámírí - The ambivalent feminine spirit of Ụ́gwụ́tá Lake of which she owns, she is paired with Ńjābá and she is also known as Ògbúìdè meaning ‘deep floodwater’ and her husband is Okita. Ụ̀háḿmírí roughly translates from Igbo as ‘the shining beauty of the waters’; Ụ̀háḿmírí is beautiful and wealthy and happy and childless. She is a powerful spirit among women in Ụ́gwụ́tá and is considered as somewhat of a spirit of achievement among women; successful women in Ụ́gwụ́tá especially were said to mostly be devotees of Ụ̀háḿmírí.


Also: Ụ́làsị̀ / Ụ́ràsị̀ - The spirit of the Ụ́ràshị̀ (Orashi) River which runs through Imo State and Rivers State. A male, Ụ́ràshị̀’s sacred grove, like Ògbúìdè’s, was marked primarily by the red and white pieces of cloth.


Also: Ọ́máḿbálá - The spirit of the Ọ́máḿbárá (Anambra) River which runs through northern Anambra State in Anam-Igbo land and then into the Niger River.

Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí

Of the Ọ̀tá Ḿmírí (Otamiri) River which runs through Imo State and particularly Ụ́ràtà-Igbo communities where the Ḿbárí votive shrines are dedicated to his mother, Àlà the Earth Mother, and where he plays a significant role.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Origin of Red Bones

Creole Boy with a Moth, 1835, by Julien Hudson (American, 1811–1844); oil on canvas; 29 x 23 inches.

‘Red Bone’, referring to an ethnic group in Louisiana and a black American term for people with fair skin, has strong ties to peoples in what is now eastern Nigeria. Originating from 18th century chattel slavery in the West Indies, the term ‘red bone’ takes from the creole term ‘red Ibo’ referring to fairer skinned black people. The term derived from observations of fair skin among some members of the Igbo ethnic group (and some other peoples lumped in from eastern Nigeria) whose numbers in slavery ratcheted up in the 18th century due to internal conflict in Igboland. European slavers and plantation owners often made observations and generalisations about various ethnic groups since different Africans were targeted for their knowledge, education and skills; a hefty amount of stereotyping and dehumanising was subsequently placed on various ethnic groups found in large numbers in slavery. One recurrent observation was the relatively higher prevalence of fair skinned people from the Igbo area, known then in the Atlantic as the ‘Eboe Country’. The fairer skin was demonised by planters as ‘sickly’ and the Igbo were characterised as weak because of this. This also meant their ‘price’ dropped and poorer planters in places like Virginia took many Igbo leading to a saturation of Igbo people there. The disdain, however, may have been fuelled somewhat by the fact that enslaved Igbo people weren’t unknown for their defiance of slavery, immortalised in the folktale of Ebo landing; they were also involved in a number of slave revolts all over the Caribbean, including in Haiti.

Ultimately, this characteristic was taken in as a negative one and the term ‘red’ was combined with ‘Ibo’ (Igbo) as a pejorative used by black people in the British West Indies for people who were black but with fair skin as opposed to mixed people who were just ‘red’ or ‘brown’ thus suggesting a hierarchy of phenotypes and hair types. Some creole linguists trace the term to Louisiana where it was heard as ‘reddy bone’, leading to the understanding of the term as ‘red bone’ with a less negative connotation as it is still used in AAVE today.

The term red bone is interesting as it seems to be a word that’s linked to a particular experience of an ethnic group in slavery. The word itself carries a lot of historical weight in terms of what it meant for one group of Africans in that era. (Kniffen, Gregory and Stokes 1987; Don C. Marler 1997, 2000; Winer (2009). Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago. pg. 754.; [Louisiana, Where Music is King, PBS.])

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Study the native from the native point of view..."

Charles Partridge, Assistant District Commissioner in Southern Nigeria, photographed by an interpreter at Ndiya, present day Akwa Ibom, February 10, 1905. British Museum.
Study the native from the native point of view is the motto which all my senior officers have given me since I joined the service of the Protectorate. When I first landed in Southern Nigeria in July, 1901, the government was being administered, during the absence of the High Commissioner, by Mr. Probyn, […] [he] “laid stress on the importance of our being patient and tactful in our dealings with the native chiefs."
[...] Mr. C. H. Read, F.S.A. […] at the British Museum: [...] “[anthropological studies] is, in fact, the necessary training of a diplomatic service for dealing with primitive peoples, with the important difference that whereas the diplomatist can have recourse to argument and common sense on the occurrence of a blunder, such an opportunity is rarely given to the white man in dealing with the savage, whose method is to act first and leave the argument to the end. [...] [I]f it [anthropological work] should serve no other purpose, it at least demonstrates the necessity for intimate knowledge of tribal customs before attempting any but the most perfunctory relations with a primitive people.
[…] [T]he following apposite remarks occur in a leading article in The Morning Post on France and Morocco “[…] It is largely because we have known how to respect native institutions, and to preserve whatever is good in them, that we have been so successful in our dealings with races on a different plane of civilisation [...] A few thousand pounds spent in the early stages of our contact with peoples brought under our influence, or a systematic inquiry into their administrative systems, manners, and customs might save us hundreds of thousands of pounds in punitive expeditions."
— Charles Partridge (1905). Cross River Natives. pp. vii–ix.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Effects of British Colonialism on Indigenous Technology in the Nkwere Axis

Farmers from Nkwere, in present day Imo State, Nigeria. Catholic Mission of the Lower Niger. Early 20th century.
[…] The colonial educational system disorientated the people and the effect was so conspicuous that it emphasised on clericalism and neglected artisan and technical training. The educational system created no links with traditional occupation and skills; rather, it tended to divorce the recipients from traditional skills. The dysfunctional nature of the system had adverse effect on the traditional milieu of the people. The view is supported by Walter when he maintained that it was not an educational system that grew out of the African environment or one that was designed to promote the most rational use of material and social sources. He further averred that it was not an educational system designed to give young people confidence and pride as members of African societies, but one which sought to instil/inculcate a sense of deference towards all that was European and capitalism. Colonial schooling was education for subordination, exploitation, the creation of mental confusion and the development of underdevelopment.
Therefore, the net effect of colonialism was that it foisted negative change on Nkwerre traditional technology and other communities in Igboland. The people became dazzled and stupefied by the events such that their response became mimetic rather than analytical; thus, they despised their emerging civilisation and technology for similar foreign-made products and they took to schooling but made paper qualification and end in itself.
— Uzoma Samuel Osuala (2012). Colonialism and the Disintegration of Indigenous Technology in Igboland: A Case Study of Blacksmithing in Nkwerre. Historical Research Letter. [PDF]. pp. 16–17.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Igbo School Teacher

Postcard, Igbo school teacher, CMS Bookshop Port Harcourt.

European Segregation of Nigerian Cities

Postcards, areas reserved by the British colonial government for Europeans and for "natives" in Port Harcourt. Segregation was part of the British system of indirect rule, indigenous people were kept as far away as possible with exception to servants and those invited.

Many British-African cities (Enugu, Harare, etc.) were segregated as such with well planned and built-up European areas and 'native' settlements usually growing as slums as people moved to the new urban areas to work. Photo: European Hospital, Port Harcourt (postcard).

European court, Old Calabar, Southern Nigeria; uniformed Africans sitting behind a table and Europeans behind them; two banners bearing Union Jack flags with "NEW PROVIDENCE | OLD CALABAR" on them, 1894-1908. Photo: W J Sawyer.

Echoes of segregation linger on; European reservations were usually central and better built with important administrative buildings nearby, independence turned them into GRAs (Government Reserved Areas) which are usually still among the wealthier parts of Nigerian cities today.

Eze Nri Obalike

Eze Nri Obalike photographed by Northcote Thomas during his ethnographic tour of the northern Igbo area around Onitsha and Awka, around c. 1910, coloured by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2017.

Eze Nri Obalike sounding his gong on his Ọzọ stool, round him is the Ọzọ na Nze priestly sect distinguished by their okpu mme (red hats) [or perhaps the Nzemabua council of the Eze], beside the Eze Nri is a young Adama boy, who are called “wives” by the Eze Nri according to Northcote Thomas and leave the service of the Eze Nri in later puberty. The building behind is one of the temples and meeting houses that once dotted Nri, the epicentre of northern Igbo religious life. Eze Nri Obalike is the 14th recorded Eze Nri (15th when including Eri) and headed Nri, the oldest continuous kingdom in the area, from 1889 till 1935. Eze Nri Obalike was appointed as a warrant chief of the Awka Native Court by the British in the 1900s, but relinquished the position afterward; the Eze Nri’s status isn’t simply that of a king but as the head, and origin, of all leaders (also priests) in the area.

The British and Christian missionaries conspired to remove Nri authority in the area by threatening the massacre of the Igbo highlighting the function of Christian missionaries as an arm of European conquest (including the function of aiding in the removal of religious control and reliance within the people and moving it to Rome for Catholics and England for Anglicans, etc.); in order to avoid the mass killing of his people, Nri Obalike, against tradition, left Nri after the British failed to capture him and he was made by the British colonial government to abrogate the codes that governed his Eze status, including taboos and abominations. Before the British, the Eze Nri was not easily accessed or seen, but this changed when he left Nri in the early 20th century. When Eze Nri Obalike was summoned to the native court at Awka in 1910, the government anthropologist Northcote Thomas reported that “the whole assembly rose and [fled]” as the belief was that the Eze Nri’s status was that of a spirit-man. Warrant chiefs introduced to the area by the British were made to renounce the Eze Nri; since then the Eze Nri’s influence has been confined to Umunri, the village-groups of the Nri people. As mushroom kingdoms continued to pop up around Nri and as Christianity dominated Igbo life, the social and religious significance Nri held over the Igbo around today’s Anambra State, northern Imo State, southern and central Enugu State, and some parts of Aniocha in Delta State, retreated.

More about warrant chiefs here.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Okonko Masking

Ọ̀kọ́ńkọ̀ masqueraders with raffia costume on the cover of African Arts journal. Umuowa, central Igbo area, Nigeria. March 1988. Photo: Eli Bentor.

"The Okonkor is the leading secret Society among the people of these parts. It originated from Arochuku. It was an innocent play organized by a few members just to amuse themselves; the inviting sounds of the drums they used in their play, the curious sounds produced in the Okonkor private chamber from what they call cloth, the funny dances, soon brought the elders and notable men who are curious to know how and by what these sounds are produced, to join the new play. In short as many were desirous to join, and as many important men and elders join the club, they soon make it to gain supremacy over other clubs .... Every member is sworn not to disclose the secrets of the Society excepting at the formation of a Branch Society in some other countries for the purpose of money making. In this way it spread among the countries but the Aro people being cunning use the greatest care to introduce it to a certain limit. The Okonkor of the Coast towns was not introduced by the Aros but by the offenders of Okonkor laws and who were sold away as slaves to the Coast towns by the Aros. Chiefs and elders of every town soon invited the Okonkor and make it the channel by which they rule the affairs of the country."

— Memorandum by A.O. Ockiya of the Delta Pastorate Mission, Aba, [1920] (NAE Abadist 1/12/54). via Robert D. Jackson (1975). The Twenty Years War.

Arochukwu, 'Punitive Expedition', Progress

Image: "Burning Arochuku" Charles Partridge, 1902.
During the year 1902 the Protectorate was freed for ever from the evils of slave-raiding and slave-dealing on an organised scale. On April 1st, 1901, ‘The Slave Dealing Proclamation’ was published, and on the 26th November, 1901, the provisions of that law, making slave-dealing in all its forms a penal offence, were applied by Order to all parts of the Protectorate, but it was not until the termination, in April, 1902, of the successful military operations in the Aro country, that the system of tribal warfare, for the purpose of making slaves, could be accurately regarded as an evil of the past.... Slave-raiding had been repressed for many years previous to 1902 in the delta country and in all the hinterland, except that part of the latter which lies between the Niger and the Cross River (a distance of 100 miles), and it was throughout this region that the Aro influence was predominant.
The most noteworthy fact brought to light by the military operations in the last stronghold of slavery above described, was that the Aros were not a military race, and that their influence was due to their relatively great intelligence, as compared with other native tribes. The strength of this influence was such, that not only was it paramount in the Aro country, but was also felt in many places in the delta region between the Niger and the Cross River, and also to the east of the latter. Whenever a tribe attempted to avoid acting in accordance with the Aro policy, it was fought by warlike tribes under the direction of the Aros, who recompensed such mercenaries by allowing them to loot the conquered tribe and to seize and sell as slaves those who survived the conflict. Within the area of the direct Aro influence, no important dispute could be settled save by reference to the oracle in the Juju or sacred grove, situated in a ravine near Ibum (Aro Chuku). Each of the contending parties attempted to propitiate this oracle by large offerings, and the party against whom judgment was pronounced, was believed by his tribes to have been destroyed by the hidden power, while, in reality, he was almost invariably sold secretly into slavery. As the tribe supposed to be specially favoured by this oracle, the Aros were able to gain wealth in the shape both of propitiatory offerings and of slaves. In addition to being a constant source of wealth, the Juju oracle also afforded the Aros a means whereby anyone opposing or supposed to be desirous of opposing their authority could be easily removed, as they could at any time contrive that a charge should be made against the rebel, thus forcing him to appeal to the oracle and then, on his arrival at Ibum, he would either be made powerless through parting with all his wealth as an offering, or, if his gifts were insufficient, his doom would be pronounced by Aro priests hidden in a concealed cave in the sacred ravine, and thereafter the Aro opponent became the Aro slave. The Aros do not appear to have resorted to trial by ordeal.
The military operations which were brought to a successful close in 1902 destroyed the system of slave-making above described, and the dreaded Juju oracle ceased for ever to exercise its baneful influence. The Aros themselves, however, were not destroyed, but, on the contrary, immediately gave further proof of their intelligence by adapting themselves to the new conditions of life. It had been their practice to prevent tribes within their influence from attempting to do a direct trade with the delta country, and thus they alone had experience in trade. They at once began to utilise this experience, they readily learnt to appreciate the superior value of English currency, as compared with the native mediums of barter, manillas, brass rods, etc., and, by their activity, showed that for many years they would be probably the principal gainers in any increased trade which might result from their country having been thrown open to the delta traders.
— Mr. Probyn, Acting High Commissioner, in the preface to his Report on Southern Nigeria for 1902.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

An old kind of warrant chief, from The Nigeria Handbook, 1936

As a largely acephalous people*, the British colonial government found it difficult to incorporate Igbo communities into the imperialist system of indirect rule, in response to this the British set up a system in which Igbo communities elected one of their members as a “Warrant Chief” who would be given a ‘warrant’ to act as a representative of the colonial administration in their community under the 'native court’ system, including the responsibility of collecting tax. The system was not well understood by the Igbo who came to decisions via consensus which often included a debate; with the misunderstanding of what the Warrant Chief’s powers entailed, many communities elected individuals in their communities who hadn’t necessarily been significant in terms of leadership, other communities elected lineage heads and other leaders. The system became widely abused and many Warrant Chiefs amassed wealth through their positions and quickly became despised by their communities.

It was the abuse and threat of taxes by the British through Warrant Chiefs that sparked the Aba women’s movement of 1929 in which women led protests and demonstrations and skirmished against Warrant Chiefs and the colonial administration. After 1929, Warrant Chiefs were removed from power, although some of them and their descendants became big men and took up chieftaincy titles. The British then devised Native Authority Councils in which they tried to 'prefect’ indirect rule by matching it with what their intelligence reports had told them were traditional organisational structures, this included a council of elders and an elite leading the community, however, women’s roles in traditional Igbo organisation were not recognised in this system. After the exit of the British at independence, many of these leaders and their descendants sought traditional legitimisation in many ways, one such example of this was the changing of their official title of 'Chief’ to 'Igwe’ and 'Eze’ in order to further root their status in tradition, it’s not unusual to see monarchies in Igboland that were started by an individual originally and officially referred to as 'Chief’ but whose descendants are titled 'Eze’ for example.

[*Excluding some communities and excluding priest kings and the system of lineage heads who are (originally) fundamentally priests of the lineage, e.g Okpara, Di Okpara, Dede, etc, and senior communities and households.]

More information: Axel Harneit-Sievers (1998). Igbo 'Traditional Rulers’: Chieftaincy and the State in Southeastern Nigeria. Africa Spectrum Vol. 33, No. 1.

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